Everybody knows icing's the best part--right? If you want to forgo the pre-packaged stuff and make your frosting from scratch, it's a quick and easy task. In the time it takes a cake to bake in the oven, you can make delicious, sugary icing from start to finish. Follow these steps to make buttercream (better for pastry filings, and large cakes) or powdered-sugar icing, (best for cupcake glazes and small jobs) from scratch.
Powdered Sugar Icing
Use 1 cup of powdered sugar for every 1/2 cup of finished icing. Sift powdered sugar into a mixing bowl.
Drizzle milk into the bowl, 1 tablespoon at a time, while stirring. You'll need about 2 tablespoons of milk for firm icing and 3 to 4 tablespoons for pour-able icing.
Optional: Stir a drop or two of extract per cup of frosting. Vanilla works with everything; use other flavors, such as orange, lemon or cinnamon, to match the baked good as needed.
Sift 4 cups powdered sugar into a bowl and set aside. (You need about 4 cups of sugar to make enough icing a 9-inch cake).
Using a stand-mixer or hand-mixer, in a separate bowl, beat 1 cup butter (kept at room temperature) and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract until creamy.
Keeping the mixer on low, beat in the sugar 1/2 cup at a time, until it's blended and smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl every minute or so.
Beat in just enough milk to cream the icing; about 1 tablespoon per cup of sugar should do it. The icing is ready for immediate use, or store it up to 10 days in the refrigerator with a piece of plastic wrap covering the surface.
Optional: For chocolate buttercream, beat in cool, melted unsweetened chocolate. You need about 1 ounce of chocolate per cup of buttercream.
Tip: If storing icing, remix the icing immediately before use, adjusting the consistency with milk as needed.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.